In 2013 when The Americans began airing, the series was merely a brilliant TV show, allowing Russellholics their first extended binge on Keri since Felicity. But as time passes and the seasons have extended to its current fifth, the show has become increasingly ironic and important not for the reasons frequently cited – “who’d a thunk that Russia would become the major adversary and threat that the USSR was in the 1980s” – the period portrayed in the Americans. It didn’t happen and it’s not gonna.
As discussed in HL 11 titled “The North Koreanization of Russia,” except as international outlaw and prankster, Russia continues to decline in virtually every important measure of greatness and power. Deaths outpace births, average income is declining and is less than in China or Serbia and the Russian economy is based on dying hydro-carbon industries.
The irony, growing and more bitter each day, is the degradation of America under Trump and his Republicans (he’s theirs until they do something about him) into the caricature and stereotype that motivated the real spies portrayed by Russell and Matthew Rhys in the series. (Massive spoiler alert for those who have not watched all or most of this masterwork).
The central plot element and tragedy of the series is the protagonists’ sacrifice of their lives and family to the Marxist/humanist future that is in epic cold war with a racist, economically stratified, selfish and materialistic America. But at every turn the Soviets, masquerading as suburban Americans, start to see that we are not so bad and are steadily getting better. Class and race inequalities are being improved. Each time they suspect some massive American plot, for example to starve the CCCP by infecting their wheat crop, they discover instead America at work trying to eradicate world hunger through crop modification. All the while, they who are really good people, kill, steal and betray wonderful Americans who have rendered love and kindness to them and their children. Their image of the ugly American is attacked weekly and disillusionment with the crumbling Soviet Union and the rationale for their sacrifice builds.
Painful and deliciously tragic as received by the American audience until Tuesday (the day it airs) November 8, 2016. And then the ugly, indeed uglier American emerges in the form of Donald Trump and his basket of deplorables – not those who voted for him but the Republican establishment that continues to support him in a Faustian bet that they can get some or most of their wish list enacted while he is President. Because he either doesn’t care or understand what that agenda contains. Bitter indeed for America. But for The Americans, who their fans have grown to root for and love, maybe we hope they lived to see this America, the one they sacrificed their lives to defeat.